Exam time is upon some of us … Irritability, crankiness and sarcasm become the order of the day. The kids also get tetchy. Exam stress takes its toll on the whole family, especially the dog who doesn’t understand why everyone is so jumpy. Take practical steps to minimize the trauma:
Having a systematic study schedule and sticking to a routine go a long way to minimizing exam stress. Ask to see your child’s study schedule and check that it is realistic and achievable. If not, suggest modifications. Encourage your child to explore a few different Study Fit techniques. Even if it doesn’t become their preferred method of study, they’re still learning! They should keep their Study Fit manual on hand and page through it periodically. A light bulb may go on, seeing a new technique that could be applied, particularly if they are struggling with a particular section. Check that schedule is being adhered to. Routines help de-stress.
Eating healthy meals during exams is of paramount importance. Their bodies need the nutrients. Try not to shock them with sunflower seeds and broccoli when you are used to peanuts and pumpkin, but a good meal including a variety of colours and textures will meet their nutritional and sensory demands.
When your child has a snack, they should stop studying, stand up and stretch, then eat. When they are done eating, they can go back to studying. Help improve their focus with:
- water with loads of ice,
- a small, super-thick smoothie with a straw
- snacks with crunchy and smooth textures: carrots and cheese; celery filled with peanut-butter
- a good night’s sleep helps settle nerves, process learning and regenerate the brain. Help them to wind-down after studying with gentle music, a warm bath or a relaxation ritual.
Recent research shows that a student’s belief about their academic ability can enhance exam stress. If a child believes that they cannot change their ability, they may feel a lack of control over their exams and struggle to cope.
- unproductive studying
- lack of determination
- studying less when the subjects become harder and bigger
- avoiding studying altogether
- The opposite is also true. If a child believes their results improve with effort and planning, they often feel more in control because they can develop their study skills to match the demands of the exams. They put more effort into studying, prepare and plan better, and are more determined when study demands increase.
External rewards have less effect on a child’s motivation than internal. When they enjoy a subject, students naturally put more effort in. Try to think of creative ways of stimulating their enjoyment rather than resorting to bribery. It’s tempting, I know. And easier. However, the long-term payoff is far greater when they learn to find something enjoyable about watching grass grow.
Our brains are constantly learning. Current research in neuroscience tells us that our brain is like a muscle; it changes, grows and gets stronger the more we use it. Simply put: the more you use your brain, the more you will have to use.
When we learn something new or practice a new skill, part of our brain changes in response to the new stimulus. The brain we were born with is not the brain we have now, and is not the brain we will have in ten or twenty years.
In a study carried out in 2007, about a hundred 7th grade learners who were performing poorly in mathematics were assigned workshops that taught them about the brain and that it forms new connections every time you learn something new (called the expanding nature of intelligence) and that learning makes you smarter. By the end of the term those that had been taught that you can become smarter had higher marks.
“When they studied, they thought about those neurons forming new connections,” Dweck, research psychologist co-leading the study affirmed. “When they worked hard in school, they actually visualized how their brain was growing.”
It is not only that knowledge that caused the learner’s marks to improve, though. The study revealed that the greater the learner’s belief that they could get more intelligent, the more their self-confidence improved. The greater the self-confidence, the better the test results.
To help our children perform better in tests and exams and in life, we need to empower them to believe that they can become smarter with diligence and that studying effectively will grow their brains!
Your mind-set will determine how you interpret a challenge. If you have a growth mind-set, i.e. you understand and believe that your brain grows with use and that you become more adept, you will tend to look for creative solutions and will have a belief that the challenges can be resolved.
If you have a fixed mind-set, i.e. you believe that your intelligence is what you were born with and will never expand, you tend to be limited by challenges and they can present complete walls to future success.
Here are a few tips for growing brains …
- Practice, practice, practice. Repeating a task, remembering, and reviewing material in a variety of ways helps build thicker, stronger, more hard-wired connections in the brain.
- Put information in context. Recognizing that learning is the making of new or stronger neural connections, helps learners tap into already-existing pathways. Help your child to see relationships between concepts to generate greater brain cell activity and achieve more successful long-term memory storage and retrieval.
- Let your child know that this is how the brain works. Breaking through barriers where children believe intelligence is predetermined, may ease their minds and encourage them to use their brains, especially for children who believe they are ‘not smart.’ This realisation that they can change their brains through study and review is empowering.
I SEE YOU!
It’s a time of badges, certificates, medals, trophies, recognition, awards, prizes and ‘seeing’ of high achievement. I love seeing the kids that shine at this time of year – a big high heartfelt round of applause to you. You so deserve it for the effort you have put in. But this message is for the kids that didn’t get called up for any of the above…
I SEE YOU!
To the child that conquered their fear of heights, or sleeping in the dark, or riding without training wheels or sleeping out for the night for the first time this year, I SEE YOU.
To the child that managed to resolve more conflict than they started this year, to the child that learnt to say the impossible; “I’m sorry”, and to the child that walked away from the fighting instead of getting involved, I SEE YOU!
To the child for whom school is a huge struggle, you get up every day and you go, I SEE YOU!
To the child that battled all year with the maths, or reading, or concentration, or speaking out in class, or learning their words, but persevered anyway, I SEE YOU!
To the child that found the kindness in their heart to reach out in any way to another person or to an animal in need or in pain, I SEE YOU!
To the child that learnt to give and to share for the first time this year and even found joy in these, I SEE YOU!
To the child that battles to make friends and to be social, you made new friends this year and for that, I SEE YOU!
To the child who wanted so much to please, but was just out of sight of an adult who perhaps was too busy or too distracted, I SEE YOU!
To the child who lost a friend or a loved one this year, but carried on everyday bravely even though their heart ached, I SEE YOU!
To the brave parents that try every day to do the best for their kids, I SEE YOU!
May you and your children revel in small but significant victories that you have both experienced this year, as I will with my beautiful children. For every year there is progress and growth, we don’t need a podium or handshake or a hall of applause to be seen. I SEE YOU!
- Help your child to plan a realistic and achievable study schedule early on, breaking the subjects into manageable components.
- Check they are studying in an uncluttered area, undisturbed. If noise is required for learning, let them choose their own sound or make their own noise without comment from anyone.
- Prompt your child to take a breaks and move around between sections or subjects. Don’t let them watch TV or have device time in the breaks.
- Offer to help or quiz your child sometimes.
- Ensure your child finds out exactly what the test involves. Can they check past papers?
- Encourage your child to ask for help if they don’t understand.
- Stick their mind-maps and notes around the house to keep jogging their memory.